I recently learned a great strategy that I can’t wait to share with you.

Employee: Hey Bob. I know you are busy. I just have a few quick questions. A few of us came up with this really great idea for the party.

HR: No.

Employee: Um, well, okay. So, Jim needs me to help him with this thing…

HR: No.

Employee: All right, then, just one more question…

HR: No.

Employee: Come on, you didn’t even give me a chance!

HR: (Smiles gleefully)

———

Let me tell you the secret to human resources: always say no. Whatever people want, just flat out turn them down. The great thing is that pretty soon, you can train them to stop asking for anything and settle for whatever you want to leave them with. They’ll stop bothering you and just get to work.

Clever, huh? Now you, too, can implement this kind of approach to human resources and make your stand for what you believe in.

News flash: if this sounds even remotely appealing to you, you suck and need to get out of HR.

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with an HR leader that was trying to help an employee with a major insurance crisis to cover his critically ill child. The response from one of her peers in HR? “It’s not our job to take care of them.” Ugh. Yes, we’re business leaders, but we’re also people too, darn it. Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you. Disregard, dismiss, or demean them and you will lose the best chance you have at being competitive in the marketplace.

Why is that so hard for some people to grasp?

This weekend I was doing some spring cleaning. Well, summer cleaning, since I missed the spring season. Anyway, one of the things I found was a box of items I used to keep on my whiteboard next to my desk as reminders of important aspects of HR. These shaped the way I practiced HR and ran my department on a daily basis. I thought it would be fun to share the notes here to help give you an idea of what kind of HR I practiced.

running great hr department

1: Your Company Values

Your values statement should be the most tattered piece of paper in your organization.

Most companies pick out a few values as part of a management exercise or checklist and then forget about them. Want to hire great people that align with your mission? Use your values statement every day to keep measuring your candidates and employees to make sure they are on target.

2: Communication Breakdown

The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, dribble, and misrepresentation.

Continue reading

I just wanted to say “thank you” for the last few years. I have enjoyed my work and appreciate the opportunity to contribute. As of today I am turning in my two week notice…

Like you probably have, I have had multiple versions of that conversation with managers over the years. Sometimes it’s painful, and other times it’s a relief to put in your notice to depart. But the question we’re examining today is this: should employees give notice when they quit their job?

My Workplace Philosophy

It is my firm belief that we should treat others in the workplace just as we would like to be treated. In many cases that has worked out well, and it is something that I don’t have to be ashamed of when I’m doing the right thing. Even when employers, like my last one, don’t hold up their end of the deal, at least I know I have done the right thing.

If you also believe in this approach, then you have a long, successful career ahead of you. At the end of your working days, at least you know that you have done the right thing by those around you at every opportunity. We all mess up, but keeping that as your guiding force over time will lead you to make more friends than enemies and more good choices than bad ones.

This applies to giving notice just as it does to most workplace situations. If I was a business owner and an employee was planning to quit, I would want as much notice as possible to get ready for the change. It takes a while to recruit and select a replacement, and while many people think there is a law around giving notice, the employee has no reason to give the employer a heads up if they don’t want to.

When to Skip Giving Notice

If you work for a company that consistently kicks people out when they give notice, then you do not have to give any warning before you depart. The company/owners/management give up their right to receive advance notice of your departure when they make a standard practice of not letting people work the entire notice period.

Most people in the workplace are on the verge of financial disaster. It’s a fact. That’s why it is so critical that an employer honors the notice period when it is requested. People need that income to bridge the gap before they start at a new employer. As an employee, if you are like the majority of Americans and living paycheck to paycheck, then you need to take this decision seriously as to whether you give notice or not. You don’t have to tell your employer you are leaving in advance if they have not given others a chance to work out their notice period. It’s not worth putting yourself in financial trouble if the company has demonstrated that it doesn’t honor a notice period.

I’ve had one employer kick me out the day I gave my notice. I was on the fence about providing any warning, because they had not treated people well historically, but I went ahead and did it simply because it’s in line with the overall  philosophy I mentioned above. The thing that was the worst about being locked out immediately is that I didn’t get to tell all of my coworkers and friends I was leaving. I’ve been on the receiving end of that situation and it is strange not to get at least a bit of closure when someone departs, especially if you have become friends over time.

I can remember when a friend’s son turned in his notice and the boss started treating him terribly during his notice period. My friend was thinking that his son had to stick it out until the end, but I let him know that if the manager was treating his son poorly, then he didn’t have to stick around and take it. The manager gave up his right to a notice period when he started acting like a fool instead of appreciating the employee for giving enough notice to start finding a replacement. He was incredibly relieved and basically told his son to collect his check and get out of there.

Reasons to Terminate Someone Immediately

That said, there are some reasons from the company perspective that would warrant an immediate termination. As an HR pro, these are the big reasons I would not allow someone to work a notice period.

  • Open investigation against the employee
  • History of issues/offenses
  • History of irrational behavior and the position to do something unpleasant (HR, security, IT, etc.)

In case you’re wondering, these situations would encompass maybe 5% of the workforce. The other 95% don’t fall into this camp and shouldn’t be shoved out the door like yesterday’s garbage. Sooner or later that kind of treatment catches up with companies and they can’t hire high quality talent to replace the ones that left.

What’s your take? What is the right way to give (and receive) notice? 

And for those of you that like a little drama, just be glad this guy doesn’t work for you.

In case you missed it, there was a SHRM Conference Daily post this week with a very interesting headline. In short, the EEOC said that training doesn’t reduce discrimination. The logic behind the commentary had a few holes that I want to point out really quick, but I want to spend the majority of the time today helping you to understand what actually works for eliminating harassment. Here’s the synopsis:

The biggest finding of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace may be what it failed to find—namely, any evidence that the past 30 years of corporate training has had any effect on preventing workplace harassment. “That was a jaw-dropping moment for us,” said EEOC Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic in a Sunday Session at the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition.

Two quick notes that need clarification:

  • There are 90,000 harassment claims, so training doesn’t work. What kind of training was used? How many of those complaints actually were legitimate harassment issues?
  • 90% of harassment is never reported. That means that hundreds of thousands of workers in the US are harassed every year. I don’t buy it. Working with a jerk or someone that is not always pleasant doesn’t equal harassment, but many people miscategorize it that way all the time.

How to Completely Eliminate Harassment

Want to absolutely crush harassment at your organization? It requires a culture that encourages ethical treatment of others. It requires a company that values not only individuality, but the fundamentals of respect and appreciation for others.

Think about it. We’ve all worked with people that simply didn’t respect others around them. Those people are the ones that often bring about harassment, because they do not have the respect for their peers and coworkers that is necessary for good working relationships.

So, we need to create organizations that are uncomfortable for those kinds of people. We need to make it unpleasant to be disrespectful by addressing it as a performance issue. We need to create an environment where those kinds of behaviors demand a swift and unpleasant response instead of sweeping them under the rug, brushing them off, etc. Harassment is serious, and not just in a “oh boy, we’re going to get sued for that one” kind of way. It can cost you great, productive employees and drive away the talent that your organization needs.

So, it may be no small feat, but crushing harassment is a worthy goal. Start today. Build a culture of respect and appreciation. Take issues seriously and address them promptly. Then you can reap the benefits of a collaborative, harassment-free workplace.

Investigations are one of the toughest parts of working in HR, because you have to work between very fine boundaries and there is always going to be someone upset with the result, no matter how gently you tread. In the various investigations I’ve been a part of, I have picked up some tips and tricks that help to make the process more smooth. No matter the result, if you know you’ve done your best and have given the most definitive answer possible, then that’s pretty much the only way you’ll have a satisfied feeling after you close the books.

I still vividly remember one of the first serious investigations I was a part of. Does this scenario sound familiar?

Employee comes to you claiming she is being harassed by a supervisor. The only witness is the best friend and coworker of the employee. The employee has been having consistent performance issues for some time and was on the verge of a performance improvement plan at the time of report.

So, how do you proceed? It’s a tricky road, especially since the employee is also a military reservist and the manager has voiced complaints about her service in the past…

The Benefits of Investigations

I do want to say this. While it’s not all roses and candy canes, there are some positive benefits of investigations worth noting:

  • Doing it properly and impartially helps to defend the company against litigation
  • Doing it fairly and quickly helps employees to see that the process and people involved are trustworthy

Again, not pleasant, but definitely worthwhile.

The Top Five Investigation Mistakes

I’ve seen many investigations go wrong, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s walk through the top five mistakes I see and how to counteract them.

  1. Delayed action
  2. Poor planning
  3. Retaliation
  4. Lack of follow up
  5. Losing objectivity

Delaying is a problem, because unlike your favorite pair of yoga pants this doesn’t get better with time. Whatever your reason for delay, get over it and get to work. Too busy you say? How would you like to explain a $95 million judgment to your boss? Yeah, I thought so. Move this to the top of your list, get to work, and get it done.

Planning is an issue. Most inexperienced HR pros freeze when the investigation hits their desk. But the pros know that following the plan/process is the fastest and most painless way to get through. Taking a little time to put together a simple plan will not only help to improve the results and reduce your stress–it will also help to make sure you are consistent across a variety of investigations, topics, etc.

Retaliation is a huge problem. The EEOC is trying to determine new guidelines regarding this issue. I always start every investigation with a clear message to everyone involved: retaliation will not be tolerated by anyone throughout the entire process, whatever the result turns out to be.

Lack of follow up can be another hangup. It’s tough to make sure you touch base with everyone after the fact, because you know that as soon as you file that report with the right people you have to get back to the work that has been stacking up on your desk since you started the investigation. Even if you can’t share results with the people involved, at least let them know when you wrap it up. And you do create and file a written report for each investigation, right?

Finally, losing objectivity is my Achilles heel. There are two sides to this that get to me. The first is trying to remain objective despite obvious and outrageous evidence presented at the outset. It’s hard to assume that someone is innocent until proven guilty, but you need to ingrain that into your thought process. Secondly, if someone becomes emotional it’s very easy to want to comfort and share your own opinions, but that doesn’t help anyone. Keep a lid on it.

Bottom line: we all have issues. Still, it’s up to you to help make sure your organization isn’t blindsided by something that could have been addressed in its early stages.

What interesting, weird, or crazy investigations have you carried out? Any tips to share? 

firing poor performers

Awhile back I received an email from a reader about how to let an employee go who is not performing adequately. It surprised me because I don’t know that I’ve ever actually written on the topic specifically before. I want to talk about some of the dos and don’ts, but first, a story.

The Time Thief

A few years ago a manager called me to see if I could look into an employee’s time card. The employee was consistently putting forty hours of work on his timesheet, but he was arriving late, leaving early, and taking long lunches on a regular basis.

So I reached out to the company managing the security access point to get the gate logs for this person. Mind you, this is just getting me the time that he swipes into and out of the gate outside the building, not the specific time he’s at his computer and actually productive.

A quick dump into Excel and a few calculations later… My jaw dropped.

The records showed that this person had worked six to six and a half hours per day on average for as far back as the gate checkin log showed (several months). I was dumbfounded that it took this long for the attendance to be discovered by the managers on site. Just in that one spreadsheet alone the employee had been paid for nearly 200 hours of work he never actually performed.

I quickly launched my investigation, talking with his supervisor and our site manager, gathering all of our time data to make sure everything was correct. You see, as a federal contractor, we were billing the government for all of the time the person supposedly worked. If it could have been proven that we were knowingly allowing this sort of behavior to continue, half of the company’s employees could have lost their jobs overnight–not to mention the fines and other penalties levied by the auditors.

So, after a few days to gather everything, I got the employee’s supervisor and the site lead to sit down with me on the phone from six hours away. The employee came in and I told him what I had found and asked if he had any questions. His only response was, “Can I file for unemployment?”

Then the real story began. The employee was quickly approved for their unemployment claim and started receiving checks shortly after being terminated. I spent the next four months fighting that unemployment claim, trying to get the investigator to understand that this wasn’t as simple as poor attendance or a “one strike and you’re out” policy–the employee put the entire company at stake with his behavior.

A final written appeal won the case for the company (felt like a personal victory for me as well) and the employee had to pay all of their unemployment compensation back to the state for lying about their reason for termination. What seemed like a slam dunk investigation and termination finally came to a close and the organization and I could move on to more meaningful activities.

Terminating Unproductive Employees

In some ways, these can be the “easiest” terminations to make. I absolutely hate having to drop employees who are productive, good people. But when someone has had chances, warnings, and other opportunities to make good on their end of the deal and have failed (willingly or not), I have to say that it’s easier to handle the process.

I’ve always thought of it this way: the employee chooses the path–I just help them walk down it. 

The most basic principles that have helped me through all of the terminations I’ve carried out are these: be courteous and respectful. If you have already built trust and rapport with the employee, it will help in this conversation. If not, there might not be much you can do to build it at this point. If you were sitting on the other side of the table, how would you want to be treated? It sounds trite, but it’s indubitably true.

The implication of the original question that got me thinking about this topic was that the person didn’t want to terminate the employee and wanted to give them “just one more chance” after already failing numerous times. This is dangerous and can set up a painful precedent for the organization. It can also damage leader credibility, so it’s important to make the call, take action, and move on.

What advice do you have for terminating employees?

 

Years ago I worked for a small machine shop owned by my parents. One thing that you might not know about steel is that it can vary wildly from piece to piece. The quality, flexibility, hardness, etc. are all subject to the creation and subsequent treatment processes on that individual piece. Occasionally we would have to send off a piece of steel to be heat-treated at a specialized facility, but there were times when we had a small piece that could actually be treated in our oven by “baking” it for several hours at a specific temperature.

steelWell, you might imagine where this story is going. One night I came home and saw a very unique-looking piece of steel sitting on the counter.

Being a curious soul, I did what anyone would do after seeing something interesting.

I picked it up.

It’s at this point that I want to remind y0u that steel doesn’t share physical qualities with items like marshmallows, water, or plastic. When it’s heated to 450 degrees, it looks exactly the same as it did when it was room temperature. There are no bubbles, steam, or awful smells to distinguish it from any other hunk of metal.

I burned the fingers on one hand pretty bad from that short (seemed like forever at the time!) moment I held the steel. And that, my friends, leads me to the lesson for today.

What this means for your organization

Yes, there’s a lesson here for all of us. Sometimes things are going on that we can’t always see. There are constant changes, ebbing and flowing throughout the organization. It’s your job to stay tuned into those things as a way to manage the people side of the business.

Whether that comes in the form of a survey, employee focus groups, solid informal relationships with your supervisors, or another channel for employees to bring items to your attention, you need to be aware of what’s going on.

Why? Because more often than not, if it turns out to be a problem, you’ll be the one called in to solve it. I can’t count the number of times being in tune with the “rhythm” of the organization allowed me to head off molehills before they became mountains.

Oh, and next time you see a piece of steel, make sure it’s not hot before you pick it up. The safety tip is free. :-)